The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Lukashenka shakes things up

July 21, 2007

I’ve been meaning to write something about the tit-for-tat between the UK and Russia and the strange and unfolding saga of Boris Berezovsky, but things keep changing before I get anything coherent written.

So, let’s take a quick look to Russia’s neighbor to the west: Belarus.
Belarus gets little attention in the western media. They haven’t had an exciting people’s revolution to cover. The president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, keeps a pretty tight handle on the media and on the opposition, which tends to be disorganized and ineffective, fighting amongst themselves instead of uniting in the common cause. Lukashenka is a pretty savvy politico, as well. When he was first elected president in 1994, he was a bit of dark horse. He positioned himself as a political outsider: a man of the people and an anti-corruption crusader. Once elected, he triangulated his opponents and eliminated them one by one (sometimes literally–more than one opponent has simply vanished). But Lukashenka didn’t just target the political opposition–during his time in office, not even his inner circle has been secure. He’s careful to make sure that no one has the opportunity build an independent power base–he keeps the regional governors moving around and has been perfectly willing to sic the legal system on insiders who grow too powerful. Since Belarus is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, it’s easy to charge enemies with corruption: the charges are almost certainly true…it’s the application that is politically motivated.

Now it looks like Lukashenka is going to sack his prime minister, Sergei Sidorsky. Sidorsky has been in office now for about 3 1/2 years, so he’s due to be replaced, kind of like the timing belt in your car–it’s not broken yet, but you’d better do it with that mileage. Kommersant seems downright pleased by this story: the Russians have been trying to break into the Belarusian petrochemicals markets for a couple of years now and they seem to be hoping that this will be their big break.

Kommersant also predicts that Lukashenka will tap a particularly unsavory figure as Sidorsky’s replacement: Vladimir Naumov. Currently Interior Minister, Naumov is allegedly linked to the disappearance of numerous opposition figures and is banned from traveling to the United States and western Europe.

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